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Prop. 123 passes, settles inflation funding lawsuit


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  • Lisa Irish/Arizona Education News Service

Photo Courtesy NBC 12 News KPNX Phoenix

Prop.123  has been approved by voters, settling the seven-year-old school inflation funding lawsuit filed by public schools that didn’t receive the funds due them from voter-approved Prop. 301 during the Great Recession.

“The votes have been counted and the result is clear. This is a huge victory for public education in Arizona,” said Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey in a statement after a press conference Thursday evening. “After years of lawsuits and fighting, we are moving forward and funding our teachers, students and schools – instead of lawyers.”

The plan would add $3.5 billion to K-12 public education over the next 10 years by increasing the percentage of earnings that go to education from the state land trust investment fund. The measure would provide Arizona K-12 public schools about 70 percent of what they are owed and end the inflation funding lawsuit, according to the Associated Press.

Prop. 123 passes, settles inflation funding lawsuit Prop123BallotHP

Photo courtesy NBC 12 News KPNX Phoenix

“We are thrilled that voters have spoken and confirmed K-12 education remains a top priority in Arizona,” said Tim Ogle, executive director of Arizona School Boards Association, one of the lead plaintiffs in the case.

By 9:55 a.m. Monday, the Arizona Secretary of State’s website showed that yes votes were at 535,751, 50.93 percent of the total votes counted. No votes remain at 516,270 or 49.07 percent. Yes votes led no votes statewide by 19,481, and voter turnout for the special election was 31.7 percent.

Prop. 123 passes, settles inflation funding lawsuit TimOgle

Tim Ogle, executive director of Arizona School Boards Association, speaks at the #NowItStarts rally at the Arizona State Capitol on Thursday, May 19, 2016. Photo by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

Maricopa County counted 66,000 early ballots on Thursday, and with only 15,000 votes left to count and an estimated 15,000 more left to count statewide, there were not enough votes to change the outcome on the school-funding proposal, according to an article in The Arizona Republic.

“The fact that the vote was so close does not mean support for education is lukewarm,” said Expect More Arizona in a statement. “In fact, numerous polls tell us that support is at an all-time high. Many education advocates simply wished to address education funding in a different way.”

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas said Thursday evening that she was pleased that Proposition 123’s passage will mean more money for Arizona schools.

“While it will provide less money than I had initially requested as part of my AZ Kids Can’t Wait! plan last September, I hope this vote serves as a first step as we work together to improve education in our state,” Douglas said. “Although nothing in the proposition’s language requires them to do so, I also hope our administrators and governing boards will do everything they can to ensure that this money gets to our classroom teachers either in the form of salary increases or classroom size reduction.”

The top budget priority for most districts for Prop. 123 funds is supporting teachers and classrooms with salary increases and instructional resources.

“All Arizona public schools will get an adjustment for this current year in June of 2016 to use immediately to retain teachers and support student learning,” Ogle said.

As a result of Prop. 123’s “successful passage, more than half-a-million Arizona public school students in kindergarten through seventh grade will finally have the opportunity to learn in a classroom that was funded in the manner voters intended when they passed Prop. 301 in 2000,” Ogle said.

Expect More Arizona released a statement that said the passage of Prop. 123 “is an important compromise that gets additional funding to our schools and teachers immediately.”

“The ballot measure passed because parents, educators, community and business leaders
worked diligently to support an increase in funding for education in Arizona,” Expect More Arizona said. “The coalition around education is stronger and more diverse than ever and we hope it continues to grow.”

Ward Huseth, Great Hearts Academies interim CEO and CFO, said “As a public charter school dependent upon state funding, we appreciate Arizona voters’ decision to support Proposition 123, and we applaud Governor Ducey for his leadership on the ballot proposal. Given that public charter schools already operate on one of the lowest per-pupil funding levels in the nation, the state’s investment of additional dollars into our classrooms and teachers over the next ten years will help us focus on cultivating the minds and hearts of our students.”

Challenges ahead

Yet, the effort to pass Prop. 123 struggled with unexpectedly low numbers throughout the campaign, according to the Arizona Capitol Times.

Late Thursday, State Treasurer Jeff DeWit, an opponent of Prop. 123, said with the vote so close that it was important to wait until all ballots are counted, according to Capitol Media Services. Election results will not be official until the secretary of state, Arizona’s chief election officer, certifies them, according to CBS 5 KPHO.

But the first legal challenge to Prop. 123  was filed May 18, 2016 by Michael Pierce of Phoenix in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. In it, Pierce says Prop. 123 violates the provisions of the Enabling Act of 20 June 1910  and asks the court to grant a preliminary injunction to prevent the State of Arizona from implementing Prop. 123.

“This is the wrong way to do the right thing,” Pierce said Thursday to CBS 5 KPHO.

Last year, the Congressional Research Service issued a memo saying Prop 123 could go forward without Congress taking action, according to KJZZ FM 91.5.

What’s next?

Now, the focus should be on what happens next.

Expect More Arizona said Arizonans must keep up the momentum “by fighting for a long-term solution to increase education funding that focuses on equity and excellence in results, and hold “elected leaders accountable to make sure we have the necessary funding to”:

  • Recruit, retain and support our great teachers and school leaders
  • Support increased funding for resident student tuition and invest in community colleges
  • Improve literacy rates of our third grade students
  • Ensure high standards and accountability for all students

Erik Twist, Great Hearts Arizona President, added, “Proposition 123 commits critical funds to our schools. We look forward to continued efforts on the part of our state leaders to enact long-term school reforms that will allow the highest performing schools, like our Great Hearts schools, to meet the demand for every child who wants to attend.”

“We are relieved that the dark cloud placed over schools since 2008 has been removed, and now it’s time to focus on fully funding classrooms,” Ogle said. “With the passage of Prop. 123, the focus now must shift to creating a long-term plan to better meet the needs of K-12 students.”

Those next steps include:

  • Working collaboratively with leaders in business, education, government and the nonprofit sectors to continue to keep education front and center in the debate for Arizona’s future.
  • Renewing and updating the funding elements in Prop 301, which generates more than $600 million annually for education each year and expires in 2021.
  • Addressing the capital funding needs of our public schools, which have had to defer repairs and improvements for far too long.
  • Advocating for responsible use of the state surplus dollars, part of which could be used to restore funding cuts from previous years.
  • Restoring state funded full-day kindergarten, a victim of Recession-era cuts.
  • Continuing to educate state leaders on the need for policy changes to address current-year funding in the coming years.
  • Addressing the collapse of the state funding system for the maintenance and building of school facilities to ensure that all students are in schools conducive to learning consistent with our constitution.